Bad Afternoons and Shared Tears

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Dad sent my brothers and I an email last Friday afternoon, the subject line read Bad Afternoon.  Almost two months to the day after mom passed — the period of relief has begun to lessen, all the business and busy work that followed the memorial has been accomplished.  Their house is suddenly bigger and more quiet than he ever imagined it would be without her.  No matter how many people invite him to dinner or to join him for a show, it’s not enough to fill the space she occupied for 58 years.  Loneliness has set in, my father has realized what his wife and companion meant to him for so long.  With all that room in the house that they built together, there is now room for grief.  It’s time for that to happen.

Dad sold both of their vehicles a few weeks ago, a Toyota Tacoma truck and a Kia Sorento SUV, bought himself a Nissan Frontier truck with all the bells and whistles.. his “Cruck” as he calls it.  He is like a kid with that new vehicle, fretting over the little tweaks and details to make it right for him.  The guy shelled out $800 for new tires over the weekend, just to make the ride a bit more quiet.  Then he came home, realized he couldn’t tell mom about it, couldn’t beam and brag to her.  She was happy when he was happy.

Friday afternoon can be relaxed for me, the work week winding down.  So, after I read Dad’s email, I decided to give him a call.  My father was reaching out to his boys and I am glad he does.  There is a strong bond in my family, so evident during the past few months as our mother became more ill.  We know each other like family, share our good and bad, rejoice and fret together.  Not once ever has there been a case where there is jealousy or judgement, a testament to the cement that has brought us together — our parents.

Dad and I celebrated that together during that phone call, with joyful tears mixed with our grief.  I told Dad how grateful I am that I can look at him and my brothers, see what it has meant to each of us to have a mother who cared to teach her boys to be men.  It took me about five minutes to get that sentence out.  It felt good to say that while knowing what I said is completely true.  What we are seeing is complete support, transparency that you might not expect from four men, all possible because of the acceptance we experience through each other.  We had a mother who pulled no punches, encouraged us to talk, listened and acted when she needed to.  It shows.  She also pulled no punches when it came to her faith in God, expected the same from all of us (including Dad, who came to a saving faith through her), and as a result there are four men in this world whose faith is rock solid.

Dad and I can relate to each other right now, that common bond mentioned during that phone call.  We have both experienced and are experiencing the challenge of being alone.  I faced years where more and more I was alone, or felt that way, as my marriage began to disintegrate.  Reality that eventually I would be alone was something I feared, the eventuality and finality I avoided with dread.  Dad saw a while ago that mom’s health was failing, has always known that when that happened that she might give up.  I think he feared being without her in the same way I feared being alone.  The pain that led up to the reality is nothing compared to what the experience is like.  The day I moved out of my house and was alone was mixed with relief as well as incredible pain.  In the months that followed, I had to accept the pain as necessary to purging the poison that had built up.  Pain precedes healing.  That is my experience.

Dad is in the midst of the pain that heals.  He felt it coming, welcomed it in his own way, but I don’t think he was prepared for the intensity of the silence.  Comfort comes from friends, from memories, from the love of 58 years that will always be with him.

Steve, I guess I never fully realized what we had together.  Our relationship was never perfect, we fought at times, didn’t always see eye to eye, but she always supported me and showed me an intense loyalty.  I did not think about what a friend she was to me until she was gone.  We did everything together.  Your mom was always with me.  Now I know how important that was to me.  I am a blessed man.  God gave me the best woman for me.

I was a little astonished to hear that from him.  What he said about their relationship has always been obvious to me.  Yes, I remember the period when they fought intensely, how they came together and supported each other even during that period.  I can see how the way they quarreled strengthened their relationship instead of tearing it down.  Their love was clear to my brothers and I, had to be just as clear to each other.  My dad could make a family decision as could my mother without any question of doubt from either of them, probably because they made their decisions together.  When it came to discipline, rarely was it a singular act from my parents, never was discipline questioned by my mother or my father.  They were a team.

I told my dad something during that phone call that I have always wanted to tell him —

Dad, what you had with mom is what I wanted with my wife.  You both set the bar very high.  I wish I would have had what you had.  The expectations I had for my marriage came from watching two people love and support and need each other like my parents.  If we had come close, I would have been a very happy man.  I am jealous of how happy my mother made you.

Dad is becoming what mom was to my brothers and I.  Mom loved sending emails and texts.  While dad has always communicated with us, we are getting a barrage of messages from him every day.  I laugh.  I know my brothers are too.  It’s fun to see.

Like me, Dad is recovering with the help of friends, family, his church, as well as a healthy dose of God.  We are a lot alike, two gregarious extroverts who love talking to people.  I draw my energy from the people I know and meet, a personality trait I know I share with him.  My kids have said the same.  I like that.  I like that I am my father’s son.

 

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The Ho Comes Early

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My ‘lady friend’ (term courtesy of my neighbor) is Clark Griswold’s twin sister, interior design version.  True story.  The pictures above were taken inside my condo unit last night.  The pictures don’t do the decorating justice — it’s beautiful and all done, for the most part, by my lovely and talented ‘lady friend’.  The joy on her face as she toiled and fretted over each detail was cute, something I laughed at as I told her so.  That she would enjoy the decorating was never a question in my mind.  Every weekend since September, she has had a little bag of goodies for me, Christmas decorations scoured carefully by her practiced eyes from the racks at local Goodwill stores.  It’s a talent, a gift, her ability to find a gift in the midst of the mess of stuff at that store truly amazing to me.  D has been dreaming of how those lovingly selected trinkets would fit together inside (and outside) of my condo unit for months.  When she suggested early last week that our dates this weekend would consist of dinner and decorating at my place, I had no choice but to say yes.

While I am not really ready for Christmas to start happening yet, watching her in her element was pure entertainment.  Ideas kept flooding over her as she worked, changes and tweaks implemented until the detail was just right to her.  D would stand back, palms extended outward with a pleased smile on her face, admiring her handiwork.  It was cute to watch.  Saturday night, we worked on the tree together after dinner (stuffed shells with salad, chocolate cake and Malbec for dessert).  I was merely a participant as my personal designer woman directed the festivity.

It’s a good thing that I rarely use that dining room table.  We will need to invite friends over for dinner, so the festive arrangements can be shared.  My kitchen table (not pictured) also is decorated, although I had to rein her in a little bit there — that table is my place to hang out, as well as the place where some of my cooking prep is done.  Pretty is not practical, for the most part.  Decorating also spilled out into the hallway outside my front door, where an old wooden rocking horse awaits with a red bow around its neck, as well as an old restored wood sled.  The sled was used by my brothers and I, lovingly restored by my dad.  Some time this week, a wreath will be added to the sled.  There also is a welcome sign hung on my front door, a snowman couple wishing everyone a joyful season.

Now I can sit back and enjoy my decorated condo… until we help D’s mom decorate next weekend!

(I should probably apologize for the title of today’s blog — I couldn’t resist and it has no bearing on my ‘lady friend’… unless you talk to my downstairs neighbor.  In case anyone is wondering, heels were carefully removed at my front door.)

Tap Tap Tap

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Getting mail is always so much fun, right?  That’s usually the case, unless the envelope has an IRS return address or is a bill.  When I was growing up, back in the stone age when email was a pipe dream conceived in a dime store science fiction novel, my brothers and I fought to be the privileged one to be asked to retrieve the mail from the mailbox each day.  There might be a treasure waiting, a postcard from a cousin visiting the Badlands or a letter or a prize from a cereal box contest win.. or a secret decoder wheel from Ovaltine!  The Ovaltine thing never happened.. I am not THAT old.

I thought about those days gone by this morning as I contemplated a piece of mail received in last night’s mail, an envelope with no return address, my name and address handwritten on the front, multiple stamps carefully stuck in a line on the front right corner.  Was it a secret admirer ready to declare her desire from afar?  My check from a Nigerian prince who couldn’t help but share his immense wealth with me?  An offer to star in George Clooney’s life story (it could happen)?  Alas, the post office stamp revealed that the envelope had been mailed from the post office down the street from my condo.  It had not been mailed from a far away admirer, a Nigerian prince, or George Clooney.

TBAs it turned out, the mystery envelope had originated from a source that I should have been able to guess, a person so close to me that they could have made the contents into a paper airplane and air mailed it to me — Terese, my downstairs darling, the nitpicker of my heart.  It’s been a while since she has formally declared her admiration, although she has bellowed a few exclamations of her deep desire in my direction lately.

It’s possible she is jealous of my “lady friend”.  I am offended, however, or maybe I should be honored that she is hiding her passion, carefully wording this letter to conceal her true feelings.  My heart is warmed knowing that she thinks of me as three legged (think about that one for a second).  Terese had help writing this letter, judging from the polite language.  That is not normally her style.  Control is her style and it’s still the reason for this letter.  A few seconds of tap tap tap once or twice a month is not a reason to mail a letter of complaint to your neighbor.

Wait, how does she know it was my lady friend?  Uh oh.  Now I know why it seems like my grandpa’s eyes have been following me.  Maybe I should hang that picture somewhere else.  A friend of mine suggested that I should dress in stilettos and drag, go downstairs to apologize.  That would keep her guessing!  It might also give her another reason to complain.  Our condo association rules don’t contain a clause that forbids cross dressing, at least I don’t think so.

She apparently travelled into the future to write this letter.  The DeLorean in her driveway should have been a tip off.  As my ever alert friend Mummalunga, observed, there just might be a tardis concealed under that tarp my neighbor has mounted under my balcony.

Shoes will be removed promptly every Saturday night (date night) upon entering my condo.  They usually are, but truthfully I have not reminded her as of late to remove her shoes, cognizant of the noise they are making but not really caring if my oversensitive neighbor is bothered.  Had she been polite to me from the beginning of my residency in my stately manor, I might be more inclined to be more polite to her.  That is not the best policy, I know, so I will try to comply within reason — until the next attempt to control comes from below.

It’s sad, really.  I would prefer a good relationship with my neighbors, of which I do have with my other neighbors, where all she would need to do is let me know that every once in a while something is bothering her.  Attempts to talk with her have always turned to hostility, so I know that can’t happen.  Ironically, two weekends ago, my other upstairs neighbor placed a nice bottle of wine in front of the doorstep of their three neighbors, with a note apologizing for the noise they have made while renovating their unit.  That was very cool.

Terese is obviously tip toeing, maybe even trying to start a paper trail.  She has curtailed her screeches.  She mailed this letter instead of taping it to my door.  Perhaps this letter was suggested by a lawyer, condo property management, or by the condo association board.  Either way, she has pushed her luck and knows it.  Constant complaining has weakened the strength of her complaints.

 

Raising a Ringer

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During the course of the last 15 years or so, I had the privilege of coaching my children as they played a number of sports.  My son was one of those boys who wanted to try every sport — constantly wanting me to play catch with him, kick a soccer ball around, shoot hoops in the driveway, compete at ping pong, and go to the tennis courts for a few rounds.  Never did he allow me to take it easy on him, especially when it was tennis.  Rarely did he care that I was tired or fried.  He wanted to play.  Not wanting to be the father from Harry Chapin’s Cat’s In The Cradle, I rarely turned him down.  He always had me to be his partner in whatever activity he wanted to practice.

Having a strong boy who wanted me to compete benefited us both.  He was better because he has a father who is a decent athlete, able to show him a few things and compete well enough to cause him to improve his skills.  Constant activity kept me sharp, strengthened my throwing arm (just ask any first baseman who has taken a throw from me at third base) and improved my athletic ability even in my late fifties.  That said, I am beginning to wear down a bit, especially as my midsection grows.  During the last 15 years, I spent a good portion of my time and money supporting my children in their endeavors.  If I wasn’t coaching them, I was taking them to an event or watching them.

I wouldn’t trade those days for anything in the world.

Despite some rocky times with my son as he grew up, especially during the years when my marriage to his mother began to fail, all the time we spent together developed a bond.  Do I wish it was a little stronger?  Yes.  To be honest, the rocky times stunted that bond a little.  But as time goes on, the investment is showing.  Respect is returning, honor beginning to become a part of our relationship.  He is giving back to me, slowly, but he is doing it.

A few weeks ago, my condo association announced that they would be hosting a doubles tennis tournament.  I mentioned it to my son, hoping that he would show some interest in playing as my partner.  Nate was a talented tennis player, a standout in singles on the high school JV tennis team and in doubles on the high school varsity tennis team.  If he played as my partner, he likely would be my ‘ringer’.  I am a decent tennis player, won an intramural singles tournament in college, but it has been a few years.  In reality, it didn’t matter if we won.  I just wanted to see how would play together, wanted to spend some time with him.  Reluctantly, he agreed to play.  He was pretty sure that the competition would be an older crowd, plus he felt a little rusty since it had been over a year since he has competed at any level.

He showed.  Our first two matches, he held back, didn’t hit many serves hard, just took it easy.  We won those matches easily.  It helps that Nate is 6’4″ tall and very strong.  With him at the net, we had a wall that made our opponents lob the ball, setting me up to place the ball down either line.  In the championship match, Nate crushed several serves, some real aces that evoked several WOWs from the people watching.  We won the tournament.

It was nice to have some time with my son, time I really haven’t had in the last year since the separation and divorce.  We had a great time.  Now we get to share our prize — a gift certificate to a local restaurant!  And yes, the kid is just a tad taller than I am now.  I swear he grew 2-3 inches in the last year.

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Paying it Forward

Have you ever made an offer to someone, then later wonder why you offered?  A few weeks ago, I did just that.  While commiserating with friends out in the parking lot after a seriously enjoyable single track ride, one of those friends shared that he is thinking about trying out road biking.  He is one of those very young, enthusiastic and gifted guys who is overflowing with the joy he gets from riding.  Deni is 18, just recently moved here from Bosnia with his mother, and when he started showing up at the trails, one of the regulars took him under his wing.  The boy has learned fast, partially due to the youth factor — he is still too young to realize he is mortal and is not aware that mortality can be fleeting.  That results in someone who will go full blast at any obstacle on the trail, a strength when riding a mountain bike (although it can result in injury, as well).  Last August, I rode with him and another friend when he experienced the challenges of an extremely rocky and steep descending trail.  We smiled as Deni relished that ride, exclaiming at the end that it was the most awesome experience he has ever had.

Thus, we all like Deni.  Being around him reminds me of what I once was or at least hope I once was.

Deni waited on my lady friend and I a few weeks ago when we went out for breakfast.  She liked him too, admired his good looks.  The kid is tall, dark, and handsome.  Her daughter would be very interested, according to what she said.  He has that going for him, as well.  Deni is one of those young men that you can’t help but want to help out.

So, when he mentioned that he wants to try road biking but doesn’t have a bike, I offered to let him try my road bike for a while.  I mostly ride dirt now.  What could it hurt?  I would want the bike back this winter, since it’s the bike that goes on my indoor trainer, but Deni was welcome to have it to ride for a while.

Did I mention that my road bike is a very nice Serotta Legend Ti with titanium frame and carbon fork?  It’s an older bike, but still a great ride.  I was offering up an expensive piece of equipment.

He came by my place a week ago, immediately went for a 30 mile ride.  Judging from the texts Deni sent to me after his ride, the kid is already hooked on speed!  While it was tough for me to give up the Serotta for a while, it is worth it if it means I helped a newbie get started in the sport.

Here is a picture of my Serotta Legend Ti, taken almost two years ago.  It’s outfitted the same now, with Look pedals, Shimano DuraAce rear derailleur and Ultegra front, Neuvation wheels, Ritchey compact cranks, carbon seat post.

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Sphere of Existence

Friends occasionally ask me about what I do for a living, are a little surprised when I tell them that the company I work for is based in Budapest, Hungary.

Where’s that? is a response that I have heard more than once.  That gets a little chuckle out of me.  Four years ago, I was not as familiar with the world outside of the USA as I should be.  I am American, after all, and we Americans are not raised to think outside the American ‘box’ like the rest of the world is taught to think about the rest of the world.  While Budapest was a city I had heard of, I would have had to look it up to know that it is in eastern Europe, although I remembered enough from geography to know that the Danube runs through the heart of the city.  It’s not that I am not familiar with Europe.  The company who employed me for 25 years before my current employer is a global company with offices and manufacturing in Belgium, Italy, France, Brazil, China, Canada.  Until I worked for my current employer, though, I never had the opportunity to travel outside of the U.S..  It’s truly a wonderful opportunity.

Opportunity called three weeks ago.  An american company with large business potential was visiting our headquarters for a few days to test and talk about a product they want from us.  With barely a week’s notice, I was asked to travel to Budapest to assist with negotiations.  In addition, my “uniquely strong American” voice was required to record a number of product presentation videos for the company YouTube site.  After checking the status of my passport, finding it needed to be renewed (and subsequently, expedited for renewal), I made the travel arrangements.  My daughter, who recently moved to Turkey, recommended Turkish airlines, which offered one of the most affordable round trip tickets as well as the most desirable flight times.  Had I used the least expensive airlines, I would have had to leave on a Saturday morning, arrive too early in Budapest the next day.  Turkish airlines had flights leaving Chicago at 10 PM on Saturday evening, arriving in Budapest at 7 Sunday night.  That would allow me Saturday to enjoy a final ride, plus it would be the best for handling jet lag as I could manage my sleep (i.e. not sleep).

Jet lag was something I feared.  Four years ago, the first time I traveled to Budapest, I suffered terrible jet lag for the ten days I was there, slept every other night and never enjoyed a full night’s sleep.  When I returned to Chicagoland, I was a mess for the first few days back.  This time, I managed to stay awake for the entire flight(s) to Budapest, did not sleep until after I checked in to my hotel room around 9 PM on Sunday.  I slept like a baby the entire night, adjusted nearly perfectly to the 7 hour time difference the entire week.

8423The hotel my company booked for me is cheap, the rooms small and spartan, typical of many of the hotels in Budapest.  The small beds do not have sheets, only a mattress cover, and are not made.  There is a duvet and a pillow cover.  What you see in the picture is what I saw when I arrived.  Rooms are not air conditioned and usually only have a small screenless window that hinges to open from the bottom out.  Continental breakfast is provided, very good (better than most American hotels) with cold cuts, fresh cooked eggs, apple and peach juices, strong coffee, cereals, cheeses, fruit and yogurt.  After my first night’s stay, I was transferred to the hotel’s “apartments” a few blocks away, a slightly larger room that included a shower that was actually large enough to turn around in, a luxury compared to the size of other showers I have seen on this and other visits.  The apartments were new.  Unfortunately, the two skylight windows in the room did not open, there was no air conditioning, and ventilation came from a small window above the shower in the bathroom.  The weather in Budapest last week was unseasonably warm, so the temperature in the room was a bit uncomfortable at times, although tolerable.  When not sleeping or bathing, I took advantage of the quiet courtyard outside the hotel as it was cool and comfortable there.  It was in that courtyard I discovered that American visitors to Budapest are apparently rare.  A large eastern European man approached me one evening, asked for a light for his smoke (unfiltered, as seems to be the norm), and laughed when I told him in english that I do not smoke.  The guy had a five minute conversation with me, of which the only word I understood was “American-ya”.  He repeated “American-ya” constantly, shared his “American-ya” acquaintance to everyone around us.  I am not sure why he enjoyed it so much.  At one point, he moved closer to me and made a gesture with rounded lips — which really creeped me out!

The total cost of the hotel for the week?  60,000 forint.  In U.S. dollars, that’s around $215.

My bag arrived in Budapest a day after I did.  It was delivered with a plastic zipper lock, courtesy of airport security.  I picked my bag up at the hotel, pulled my bag the three blocks from the hotel to the apartment, only to discover the plastic zipper lock prevented me from opening my suitcase, pulled the bag the three blocks back to the hotel as I did not have anything sharp to remove the plastic lock, then returned the three blocks to the apartment.  By that time, my driver for the week was waiting to take me to meet my clients and our host for a dinner, that evening at a lake side restaurant near Heroes Square and the hot spring baths that Budapest is known for.  It was Monday and I was still wearing the cloths that I had left Chicago in, had not shaved yet and felt a bit funky (but not ready for funky town).

I was busy the entire week, my days spent at headquarters, usually followed by a brief return to the hotel to freshen up, then an evening spent with host from my company.  I ate one evening on a boat moored on the Danube with a spectacular view of the King’s palace, parliament, and several of the bridges that cross the Danube.  The next evening, I was treated to dinner at an outdoor restaurant that faced St. Stephens basilica, a truly magnificent and beautiful building.  We went inside the spacious basilica after dinner and were treated to a lovely acoustic guitar concert.  My week’s entertainment concluded by dinner with the fun associates of our marketing department, who had served as the film crew for the two days of video shoots, at a craft beer restaurant called Steampunk, followed by a visit to a craft beer festival in the heart of Budapest.

The week had a rhythm to it, as each day began with a relaxed breakfast in the downstairs dining area at the hotel, followed by a drive through Budapest to the office, work (the days were busy, fast moving), lunch at the VIP table in the company cafeteria, a short time of freshening up at my hotel, then dinner in Budapest.

Eating lunch at the company cafeteria was always interesting — some form of goulash with fresh cut tomatoes/cucumber on the side, meat with potatoes, dessert (I preferred the fresh hungarian “donuts”), then cappucino.  There was always more food than I needed.  I was treated like a very welcome guest all week.

Perhaps my favorite moment of the week was lunch with the man who serves as my primary day to day contact every day, Peter.  We have become friends over the years and it showed in our conversation at lunch that day, which was my last day of my trip to Budapest.  We had spent much of the day talking about business, so lunch was a time to catch up personally.  He was suffering through the last days of his father on earth, had spent the week at the hospital with his father.  My recent experience with the loss of my mother was something he wanted to hear about.  As we left the lunchroom, Peter put his hand on my shoulder and told me if it were not for the ocean between us, I think we would be best friends — we are already very good friends despite the distance.  He meant it, as it really is very true.  During the whole week, I felt the same kind of fondness from the people I dealt with.  It truly was a very good week.  My time there ended with an offer for to consider from the owner of the company, something I will have to consider with some seriousness for the next few years, an offer that also demonstrates the reputation that I have with my partners in Budapest — a very encouraging thing indeed.

My return trip home was a long one, a flight from Budapest to Istanbul that arrived in Istanbul at 11:30 PM.  My connecting flight to Chicago O’Hare would not leave until 2 PM the next day.  I spent the night and following morning in the Istanbul airport, an interesting but long time to spend in a strange place.  I chose to stay awake until 6:30 AM, then curled up in a chair in the middle of the airport for a deep three hour sleep.  I enjoyed a Turkish breakfast in the airport, as well as lunch.  The flight from Istanbul to Chicago was nearly 11.5 hours, of which I fought the temptation to sleep, watched four movies to keep awake.  I arrived home at 8:30 Saturday night, showered, changed clothes, then picked up my girlfriend.  She went home with me, snuggled up next to me, watched me sleep….

Life is interesting, especially when it extends outside of the normal sphere of existence.

Memorial

The funeral was yesterday.  My son and I had arrived on Wednesday, spent the evening with my father.  Dad is struggling, a bit lost without the woman who was his constant companion the last 58 years.  When we arrived, he was trying his best to put on a brave face, but he also wasn’t hiding his grief.  Throughout the evening, Dad would remember things about Mom, then fight the tears as he talked.  We sat with him, watched the Cardinals play (a rare loss), shed a few tears with him.  The game ended, I excused myself to go to bed, and we all retreated to our rooms.  Dad closed his door as it was clear he wanted the privacy.  I heard his voice several times during the night, visions of his wife likely kept him company.  Her body had been cremated that afternoon, but I think her spirit was with him.

I didn’t fall asleep for a while.  The memories kept coming as I thought about what I was going to say at the memorial the next day.  Mom gave me a lot to smile about over the years.  Before I shut off the light, I had reviewed my typed manuscript for my tribute to Mom, my eyes damp enough to cloud my vision as I read.  Speaking in public is usually not an issue with me.  I like it.  However, this was something I had never done and I feared my emotions would get the best of me.

Dad got up around 5:30 the next morning.  We needed to be at the church by 8.  I heard Dad go through his morning routine, the routine a comfort to him — feed the dog (a little kibble and soft food mixed together with a slice of American cheese), start the coffee brewing, let the dog outside into the front yards as he strolled with her, back inside to fix his oatmeal with a little glass of orange juice.  I knew better than to join him.  His bible and prayer journal are next to his place at the kitchen table, so he needs time to himself as he reads and prays after his breakfast.  I know to wait to hear his chair pull back from the table before I join him.  That’s what I did yesterday morning.

Dad was quiet.  That’s unusual.  I squeezed his shoulder as I walked past him to get my coffee and a bowl of cereal.  I honored the quiet, something I sensed he needed.  There were tears in his eyes and I knew that he had been crying as he prayed his morning prayer.

Since Mom’s body was cremated, the visitation and memorial was at the church.  My parents are very involved in the small town church they attend, so it was natural for us to use the church.  Flowers were being arranged in the lobby and in the church auditorium as we arrived, four picture boards and the framed pictures we had taken over to the church the night before were placed on a table for people to see as the entered for the visitation.  One of my brothers had gathered electronic copies of pictures on a thumb drive, so a slide show was already projected on the wall above the stage as we entered.  The visitation was scheduled to start at 9, finish at 11 when the memorial would start.  People started arriving 15 minutes early, not surprising for a farm community.  For two hours, we greeted people as they came through the line.  It was a reunion of sorts.  I saw people and cousins and aunts/uncles that I probably haven’t seen for decades.

That included my first serious girlfriend.  I saw her once a few years after she broke up with me over 35 years ago.  She had been a tall (5’10” tall) athletic girl who I absolutely adored, a green eyes beauty who had looked absolutely fantastic in a bikini.  During the three years we had dated, I had seen her in a bikini quite a bit as we swam together nearly every day while we were dating.  We had sports in common, tore up the coed softball leagues we had played in together, fought as I taught her racquetball, enjoyed skiing on the lake during the winter and the Wisconsin snow during the winter.  When I saw her come in the room, I could see her trying to catch a look at me.  I poked my son, told him about her.

“You dated THAT?”  He said something similar to what I was thinking.  She didn’t look weathered or beat up, but let’s just say I wouldn’t want to see her in a bikini again.  I know that she has been divorced three times, so I know I had dodged a bullet.

Mom’s music played during the entire visitation, except for the last half hour.  My brother played Rachmaninoff with the SMU symphony when he went to school there, a magnificent recording that our mother was extremely proud of.  She wanted it played during the visitation also.

The preacher gave the benediction and prayer to start the memorial service.  Then it was my turn.  My youngest brother followed me up to the podium, not sure that he would be able to speak.  He is the gentle, sensitive son and we all knew that he would be the most emotional of the three boys.  It wasn’t easy for me easier, as I had to pause to regain my composure almost immediately.  Somehow, I made it through the first part of what I had prepared without looking at the manuscript I had with me.  But, as I began to get to the most emotional part, I had to resort to reading the manuscript.  I made it through, maybe helped give my brother the strength to speak.  As I finished, I looked back at him, asked him if he could make it.  He shook his head no, but I paused, asked him again and walked over to him and helped him to the podium, then stood close behind him as he spoke.  I am proud of him.  Through a wavering and emotion filled voice, he gave a beautiful testimony to our mother.

My other brother gave his tribute by playing a medley of songs that my mother had loved to play on the piano.  It was wonderful.  My mother had a special talent and my brother has followed in her footsteps.  When he was done playing, there was not a dry eye in the room.

The preacher approached the podium, his eyes wet with tears.  He and Mom had teamed up for countless funerals and weddings and other church events over the years, as well as Mom being the church organist and piano player.  He told about how she had saved him at one funeral service, sensed that he was getting emotional during a sermon and started playing a song, which prompted him to sit down while he regained his composure.  No one had even noticed the hiccup.

His sermon during Mom’s memorial yesterday was the best I have ever heard from him.  He normally has a very wooden delivery, but yesterday he was relaxed and natural.  It was quite an honor to my mother, as he obviously gave his best.

One of the best things about small town churches, especially in farm country, is the food.  The lunch that followed the memorial was incredible, with plenty of fried chicken and meatloaf and casseroles and fresh breads and pies.  We ate as people came up to us to talk to us.  I guess my speech went well — one woman told me that her church needs a preacher and asked me if I would be interested in the job!  I didn’t have the heart to tell her that I am divorced, something that would disqualify me to preach at most churches.  One cousin invited me to go with him on a backpacking trip with him this Fall, something I may do.  I also spent some time catching up with that ex-girlfriend, her mother sitting next to me with her arm around me.  A few years ago, at my parents’ fiftieth wedding anniversary party, her mother had told me (in front of my then wife) that her daughter had let the best man go.

Have I said here that I have an ego?

My family went back to my parents’ house, spent some time together, then left for home.  I hesitated as I left.  My son and I were the last ones to leave.  Dad didn’t look like he was ready to be alone.  I knew that watching his family leave would bring on the finality of Mom’s passing.  I gave him a big hug, told him that I would stay a while longer if he needed me to.  I let him sob on my shoulder for a while, then he told me he would be OK.

Dad called me twice during my three hour drive back to Chicagoland.

Any tips?

Mom died yesterday afternoon.  We expected it to happen, the doctors told us during our meeting last Saturday that they didn’t expect her to live through the weekend.

I gathered my father and brothers together for prayer.  I prayed.  We wept.  We waited.  We went to dinner together, enjoyed the fellowship.  Our waitress looked like princess Fiona from Shrek, something I reminded my youngest brother of.  He hates it when I make him laugh at embarrassing things!

I watched her breath her last breath Sunday afternoon as dad entertained well wishing visitors.  We held her hands together as the nursing staff removed her breathing mask and checked her vitals, confirmed death.  It’s not easy, but it easier when you know that your mother is definitely in paradise.

Today, Dad asked me to give the eulogy at the memorial service.  I am the oldest, the outspoken one, the one who Mom wanted to speak at her memorial.

It will be tough.  I will focus on her music, her kindness, her love, the way she cultivated relationships.  I will share stories.  I will talk about her faith.  I will talk about her three sons and her loving husband.  It will be tough.  It won’t be easy,  but it will be easy.

Revelation 21:4 – He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’[b] or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away

Too soon

I have chronicled enough struggles here in the past few years that I don’t want to say too much.  Perhaps I will say more later.  Anyone who knows what it is like when a parent’s health is failing knows a little what it is like for me right now.  Really, the difficult part is what my father is experiencing (and has been experiencing all year) while my mother’s health has gone from painful to critical very quickly.  For me, I am just doing what the eldest child is expected to do.  Dad needs me and has shown that to me, has thanked me for the support I have given.  My brothers have looked to me to take the lead and I have.  It feels strange.  My two brothers are intelligent, very successful men yet they are looking at me for guidance.

Dad rushed Mom to the ER early the morning of August 6 as she howled in extreme pain.  Nausea has been a constant companion for her for quite some time.  It turns out that infection from diverticulitis had caused her colon to rupture, a very dangerous condition.  Doctors performed emergency surgery to remove a small portion of her colon and to remove the waste that had leaked into her abdomen.  Since then, my mother has spent most of her days in ICU.  Doctors say she will not recover, will never leave the hospital.

That has caused us to try to make some very tough decisions regarding her care.  I won’t say anything else.  I and my brothers are going back to the hospital in Springfield tomorrow to talk to the doctor and make more decisions regarding hospice care.  Yes.  Hospice.

I want to say more, but need to get some rest.  It is going to be a long weekend.

Water Torture

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I am a bad, bad, bad man.  So bad.  Oh yes, I’m bad, I know it.

I am a dripper.  It’s not a personal problem, even if it sounds like it, although it is the current personal problem of choice for she-who-is-not-to-be-named.  Ah, heck, I will say the name, even if I do not have a lightning bolt on my forehead.

TERESE.  TERRIBLE T.

When Terese complains, it means she is home and awake.  Water seems to be her greatest enemy.  I would like to tell her that she need not worry, the Wizard of Oz is only fictional.  She will not melt when water comes in contact with her skin.

Maybe I should try tossing a bucket of water on her.

Maybe THAT is why she has a plastic tarp mounted underneath the floor of my balcony.  She is afraid of melting!

A flying monkey landed on my balcony rail last night.  I swear I am not making that up.  It was either a flying monkey or a large dragon fly.

Terese decided to occupy her condo unit either Thursday or Friday.  I can tell when she is about to be home.  Her husband’s gray truck shows up in the guest parking area.  Usually, he comes home a day ahead of time, likely to get her cauldron ready for when she returns.  She has been gone for a few weeks.  How do I know that?  It has been a few weeks since she last complained and whined.  Her complaint of choice right now is water that drips from my balcony to her plastic tarp.  We are not talking about something constant, we are talking about a few drops twice this summer.  I had to leave town early Friday morning and didn’t get back until yesterday, was only home a little bit yesterday.  I heard her cackling out on her patio before I left Friday morning.

This morning, I watered my flowers before I left for work.  It’s part of my daily routine.  There are trays and rubber mats underneath each flower box, trays underneath each pot.  That is required per condo rules.  It makes sense and is a polite thing to do.  Nasty as my downstairs neighbor is, I am not going to pour water on her patio.  When I water my flowers, I have a large watering can that I use.  If I am in a rush, I might slop some water that could drip a few drops through the cracks between the decking.  That happened this morning.  I slopped and seconds later I heard the drip drip drip of water hitting her plastic tarp.  Three drips.

You might think that I had just dumped several buckets of turds over the side of my balcony.  Terese shouted several words and phrases in a loud shriek and in what I assume was Polish, followed by several choruses of SON OF BEETCH.  She has sung that chorus to me several times over the course of the last year.  Undaunted, I finished watering, went back inside to refill the watering can.  I said nothing, did nothing.  Oh, I MIGHT have held the watering can over the railing and let it rain on the grass below, but I MOSTLY did nothing.

When I got a chance to catch my breath at work, I let property management know that my neighbor would likely be filing another formal complaint.  I let them know my email was only for the record, told them I was following condo guidelines for drip trays on balconies, sent the pictures used in this blog.  They did respond, thanked me for providing the pictures so they had ammunition (yes, they used that word) that proves I am following the rules.  The woman who responded also complimented me about my flowers.  🙂

Geez, it is going to be hard to resist buying a super soaker…..